Movie Acting is the Easiest Job in the World
By Gladys Hall
Silver Screen magazine, 1934
It takes Clark to debunk this business of being a star. He has to laugh when other stars weep about the “hardships” they have. They’re all lucky, he says—and down deep they know it!
Clark Gable, between scenes of “Men in White,” in which he wears the white uniform of a hospital interne, said to me, “If you know of an easier way to earn a living than movie-acting, I’d like to know it. I’ve been standing on this set for two hours just rehearsing a smile and a few short words!”
Of all the men in pictures, Clark is the most debunking. Not for one moment does he take himself dramatically, seriously or “big.” He is less the actor than any actor born of woman. He has nothing at all of the poseur. He has been consistent, from the very beginning, in saying that he has no sort of use for great fame, for large sums of money (one hundred dollars a week for life would suit him fine), and that all this has happened to him because luck spun the wheel and happened to stop at his number.
He has consistently laughed off the suggestion that he is where he is because of any particular virtue or super-attraction on his part on in his person. He has maintained that is all “the breaks” and that it might have happened to any one of ten thousand men, but just happened to happen to him. In brief, he hasn’t changed one iota from what he was the day I first met and talked with him, when he stood, a likable, natural, very masculine man, on the threshold of his spectacular success.
I was amused and interested in Clark’s idea that the work of a screen actor is “the easiest way.” It had an astringent quality, this idea, after all the moans made by the ten-thousand-dollar-a-week stars who actually have to drag themselves to work in their Rolls-Royces at eight or nine in the morning and suffer arduously through days of making love to lovely ladies to the strains of lyric music, while some old meanie of a director lacerates their sensitive souls by his insensitive direction in a trite story that another old meanie of a producer has heartlessly and heedlessly handed them.
He Laughs When They Weep
Clark said, “I couldn’t find a squawk in my system if I had a fine-toothed comb. Actors who squawk about the hardships and the unfairness of screen work make me laugh. They don’t mean it, of course—not really. It’s a pose. Down inside they know just how lucky they are and how little they would have by comparison, if they were not in Hollywood.
“Movie-acting is the softest job in the world; it’s the best-paid job in the world—and if that isn’t an unbeatable combination, I want to know what is. The compensation received for the amount of labor involved cannot be exceeded anywhere, in any time.
“Many a morning I’ve left my comfortable home, driven onto the studio lot in my comfortable car around ten in the morning, on my way to my comfortable dressing room, where I can have the phone answered for me, my clothes brought to me, my meals brought to me, or anything I want. And I’ve seen tired-looking girls or fellows who sit at desks in small offices and draw a mere living wage per week and go home to barely comfortable and barely maintained homes. And I say to myself, ‘Why, you lucky son-of-a-gun, you!’ All you have to do is think for one minute of what we have and what the majority of other people—harder-working people—have and it’s a cinch!
“I worked, once, in a lumber camp. Those men work. They work until the sweat pours off them and their muscles strain and their backs break. They work from daybreak until the sun goes down. They are risking their lives every minutes of the time and they know it. They can’t even have their families with them, most of them. They live in the most primitive surroundings and eat the crudest food. They have almost no chance for pleasure and would be too dog-tired to take it if they had. They have no future. And they get paid, in a week, less than most of us make in one day or one hour.
Actors Make Big Money Early
“Or take a man in almost any of the commercial lines—dry goods, drugs and the others. They are chained to the monotony of an office or a store, year in and year out. They get small raises—five or ten dollars per week every six or twelve months. By the time they are comfortably fixed, with their families and their old age provided for, they are too old to enjoy it.
“We movie actors haven’t even the squawk of the fear of old age. If we have any sense at all and have got the breaks, we can save enough in five or ten years to take care of us comfortably, no matter how long we live. Even if our working schedule is shorter in point of time than the working life of men in other lines, the compensation is so much higher that we can take care of that, too. We should squawk!
“I went to a dinner party not long ago. A well-known director sat next to me. He must think well of actors, because he was talking to someone across the table from us about actors and how intelligent they are and how they must have brains and intellectual qualifications or something of the sort. They must be, and are, he said, trained and cultured and finely educated men.
“He finally turned to me and said, ‘Don’t you agree with me, Clark?’ I said, ‘I do not!’ And here’s why:
They Have Others to Thank
“We are the products of other minds. There is the story to begin with. Someone has got to write the story or we don’t materialize at all. Then there is the script. That has to be done. Then the director takes it—and us—and tells us what to do and how to do it. We need not blink an eyelash without specific instruction, if we are not capable of doing so.
“Then there is the work if the cameraman, which can make us or brutally mar us. There are the sound men, the mixers, who can give us voices to be laughed at—or remembered. We are nothing, really, but the projections of other minds. We must be responsive and pliable clay, that’s all. We must have a certain sensitiveness, a certain malleability so that we will know what the director means and feels when he speaks to us, so that we can feel, emotionally, the characters we are playing. That’s all.
“There are few other arts and no other industry today in which a man, or a woman, does not have to have at least a high school diploma. There are few other occupations of any sort in which a man or woman does not have to have some specialized training. We all know how long it takes and what it takes for a man to become a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer. It takes some form of specialized knowledge and even training for a man to be a plumber, a gardener, a hotel man. I could go on indefinitely. Only we who are actors can hand in the diploma with which we happen to have been born.”
What Actors Do Need
I asked, “Well, but what does it take—besides ‘a certain malleability’? Is it the face alone, then?”
Clark laughed. “If it were just that,” he said, “I wouldn’t be here.”
I said, “We’ll let that pass. Is it the voice, then?”
Clark replied, “Yes, in great measure it is the voice, I guess. There does have to be some training for that, true enough. At least, I had to have training. I had an ordinary voice to begin with, just a voice, neither good nor bad, but I did have to learn to use it. Yes, I suppose the voice must play a large part of the whole. If this were not so, more of the actors from the silent days would have survived.
“Generally speaking, however, I believe it is an unnamable thing—the sort of thing you can’t analyze, or label neatly or put in a test-tube. It must be the thing that makes you like certain people just because you do and dislike other people for the same reasonless reason. The good ole by-word, PERSONALITY. You don’t have to have a degree from college for that!
“There’s no getting around the luck and laziness of it. I don’t have to go very far away from home it brought forcibly to me just how lucky I am. When I was a bit less well-known that I am now, I used to go down around Main Street quite a bit just to mix and mingle and watch others’ lives. I don’t mean I went down there with the avowed purpose of making a Study of Humanity. Nothing as scholastic as that. I just liked to go and rub elbows. I’ve often tried to take another actor or two with me. They won’t go. They don’t want to see what they know they would see. It wouldn’t leave them any ground to stand on and squawk. They’d be shamed into acknowledging their own great good fortune.
Couldn’t Be Sorry for Himself
“When I was in the hospital a few months ago, I couldn’t feel sorry for myself. I lay there and thought, ‘You’ve got a pain to entertain and to be entertained by—that’s all you’ve got!” If I wanted a glass of water at any hour of the day or night, there was a nurse at hand to get it for me. If I felt uncomfortable in bed, there was a nurse at hand to move me. If a new symptom seemed to turn up, there was a new specialist summoned forthwith.
“Down in the wards were poor devils with every bit as much pain as I had and with no one to move them or jump at their least whim until the hospital routine moved around to them. And they had the same pain and the pain of mental worry, besides, no doubt. Worry over a job and how they would ‘catch up’ again with the added hospital expenses, worry about the folks at home and how they were faring. Even when we’re sick, it’s easy for us.
“I’ve said we don’t have to worry about old age—and the percentage of people who don’t have to worry about it is statistically and tragically small. I know. I just read some data on the subject. If I should lose my job tomorrow, I’d have more to live on for the rest of my life than I could have had in any other line of work if I never stopped working.
“We never have any complaints from our families. We don’t have to see our wives going out without fur coats or cars or any of the comforts. They have nothing to complain about, so even that usual human complication is spared us. If we have children, we don’t have to worry about their education. We can give it to ‘em.
“We live like human beings—at home—and we can have almost any kind of home and any kind of pleasure and recreation we want. If yachts and villas in Italy and sumptuous travel are what we want, we can have them. If hunting and fishing and riding and the simplicities f life are what we want—and they are what I want—then we can have them, too.
Marriages “Can’t” Last? Rot!
“Another popular wail about the hardships of the picture life is the one about Hollywood marriages, the snags and snares and difficulties of maintaining a home life and so on. It may be a bit difficult for the first few months, until you get your feet on the ground and know your way around and just how to take it all. After that, there is nothing more to it than there is in any other line of work.
“A man who works in a candy store may be greedy for the first few weeks and then e gradually sickens of the sights of sweets and thinks no more about them. So we, in the studios, may be slightly tottery for a while at sight and contact with so many beautiful girls and women and then we become accustomed to them. Making love on the set is certainly not hard work, but neither is it romance. You can’t really be making love with five or six technicians, a couple of directors, several electricians and a few ‘still’ men looking on. At least, I know I need more privacy than that.
“Another moan is that doctors, dentists and so on overcharge us. Why not? We can afford what they charge us. They take hundreds of patients entirely free of charge because they can’t afford to pay anything. If five thousand dollars for an operation is the same to one man as five hundred dollars for the same operation to another man, what’s the kick in that? That’s no hardship. That’s only fair. And doctors labor under and intensified nervous strain when they operate on us, or on anyone who is in the public eye. They are operating before the radio and newspaper and magazine audience of the world. We drag them into the limelight with us.
“I have read that people try to ‘use’ us. That our friends who ‘knew us when’ write us as soon as we become celebrities, and ask us for money, for help of one sort of another, that relatives spring up were no relatives were before. Maybe. I haven’t had much experience even of that ‘hardship.’ It doesn’t hurt is to help a friend along, no matter what our walk in life. So what?
“Sorry, but I can’t even invent a squawk. We have more food, more luxury, more leisure, more pleasure or opportunity for pleasure and more money for less labor than any group of people in the world. If we get a few bad parts in a few unsuitable pictures, how does that line up against the disadvantages of other occupations? It doesn’t. I’m lucky and I know it.”